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Univision going for the goal

May 20, 2010 |  3:01 pm

Spanish-language media giant Univision Communications is banking on its spicy soap operas, results of the 2010 census, a resurgent advertising market and plenty of soccer matches to propel it to profitability.

The New York-based company, which went private in 2007 in a leveraged buyout that left it burdened with nearly $10 billion in debt, has struggled during the last two years amid the recession and a dramatic pull-back in advertising spending as well as a costly legal feud with its programming partner from Mexico, Grupo Televisa.

On Thursday, Univision Chief Executive Joe Uva told advertisers gathered at the Rose Theater at Lincoln Center that Univision was poised for gains. He said the results of the 2010 census, which will be released in April 2011, should reveal that more than 50 million Latinos live in the U.S.

“We are at a tipping point,” Uva said. “The Hispanic population is significant. It is closing in on the size of the population of Italy.”

The company, which runs three TV networks including the Univision television network, the fifth-largest in the U.S. behind CBS, Fox, ABC and NBC, announced a slate of 20 new shows. It plans to air the first prime-time telenovela produced by its newly launched Univision Studios. The company formed its own studio late last year in an effort to reduce its reliance on the popular telenovelas produced by Televisa. 

Univision executives said the upcoming program, co-produced with Venezuela’s Venevision, was one of their most expensive and ambitious projects to date. Executives declined to disclose the price tag. Billed as a “modern love story,” the program, “Eva Luna,” is about a Los Angeles advertising executive, a character that should resonate with the advertising buyers that Univision has been tenaciously courting.

Univision also announced that it has acquired the Spanish-language TV and digital media rights to the popular Mexican national soccer team’s games after this year’s World Cup. Competitor Telemundo currently holds the rights to the Mexican national team.

“This solidifies our soccer strategy for the next four years,” Uva said.  Univision is also broadcasting next month’s FIFA World Cup, the sport’s biggest event.

Despite attracting millions of loyal viewers, the company has long sought to increase its advertising rates to match those charged by the English-language broadcasters. And this is the season when hope springs anew: the television industry’s annual kickoff to its commercial sales bazaar, called the upfronts because advertisers buy the time in advance of the new fall season.

Network executives also are more optimistic this year because advertisers -- including car makers and local dealerships -- appear more willing to spend money on TV ads. Analysts have predicted a robust advertising market. 

-- Meg James